The Fate of the Pinole Fire Department – Part 2 -Elephant in the Room


March 17, 2014
We can not discuss the fate of the Pinole Police Department without discussing the closure of Fire Station 74, also known as the Valley Fire Station.
Pinole’s economic renaissance began in the 1990’s with Pinole Vista Shopping Center. The City’s growth and prosperity during that period was made possible because of a healthy economy coupled with aggressive investing using Redevelopment Agency Funds.
As the population in the Valley grew the demand for a Valley Fire Station also grew. Years went by, city councils came and went and promises made were never kept. But, in 2000, the City Council, armed with an optimistic economic outlook and a growing demand by the residents in the Valley, made the Station a priority. In 2002 it became a reality.

As we fast forward four years to 2006 we find ourselves living in a world with new and challenging economic realities. Economic shock waves hit not just in Pinole but the entire world.
At about the same time violence and crime landed on Pinole’s doorstep as a shocking murder took place in Fernandez Park and gang activity escalated.
These factors soon made it clear that Pinole was facing Public Safety issues. Issues that could not be addressed without increased revenue and/or decreased spending.
Of course no one saw the Great Recession coming or could imagine its impact.

The City Council, citing the need for increased revenues to sustain Public Safety and Public Works and to keep Station 74 open, campaigned for Measure S. Measure S was passed in November 2006.

Measure S was sold to the community as a way to sustain our Public Safety services, Public Works services and keep the Valley Station open. The ballot language clearly states that. These are the same or similar reasons being given for placing a 1/2% sales tax increase on the ballot in November 2014.

The elephant in the room, Pinole Politics.
The Firefighters Unions along with other Unions are active players in the political process. When the recall movement began to pick up steam in late 2007 the firefighters took a stand in opposition to the recall. The Police Department remained neutral.
Things have never been the same for Pinole firefighters.
Now some may think that this just can’t be true, if you feel that way, then you have not been keeping an eye on Pinole politics, it is the proverbial Elephant in the Room.

With a post-recall City Council, from 2008-present, in place the City of Pinole has sought ways to reduce the Pinole Fire Department budget and reduce expenses across the board for all departments and personnel.
Among the changes made were to restrict the firefighters’ activities while on the clock, such as no stopping at the store and no attending city council meetings. Time management issues to be sure.
It is certainly the prerogative of the City Manager and the Council to make these changes if they impact the bottom line. But one has to wonder just how much the “Elephant in the Room” had to do with this.
Of course contract negotiations were taking place annually among all the unions and the City. However, only the Fire Department and its Union has come under such intense scrutiny and attack.

Throughout the State of California fire department budgets have been pointed to as a major economic culprit. We hear and read about this issue almost daily. There are many issues to be sure, and reforms are on the horizon.
As we explore the state of and the fate the Pinole Fire Department it is prudent to compare the fire services currently offered in neighboring cities.

In “The Fate of the Pinole Fire Department” Part 3, we will look at two neighboring cities and their fire departments, El Cerrito/Kensington and Rodeo-Hercules, cities with similar demographics and populations.